The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Both authors discussed and developed the ideas and hypothesis for the paper. MAB made the initial draft of the manuscript. MHD contributed to further development and writing of the text and both authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The global disease burden resulting from climate change is likely to be substantial and will put further strain on public health systems that are already struggling to cope with demand. An up- stream solution, that of preventing climate change and associated adverse health effects, is a promising approach, which would create win-win-situations where both the environment and human health benefit. One such solution would be to apply methods of behaviour change to prompt pro-environmentalism, which in turn benefits health and wellbeing.
Based on evidence from the behavioural sciences, we suggest that, like many social behaviours, pro- environmental behaviour can be automatically induced by internal or external stimuli. A potential trigger for such automatic pro-environmental behaviour would be natural environments themselves.
Previous research has demonstrated that natural environments evoke specific psychological and physiological reactions, as demonstrated by self-reports, epidemiological studies, brain imaging techniques, and various biomarkers. This suggests that exposure to natural environments could have automatic behavioural effects, potentially in a pro-environmental direction, mediated by physiological reactions.
Providing access and fostering exposure to natural environments could then serve as a public health tool, together with other measures, by mitigating climate change and achieving sustainable health in sustainable ecosystems. However, before such actions are implemented basic research is required to elucidate the mechanisms involved, and applied investigations are needed to explore real world impacts and effect magnitudes. As environmental research is still not sufficiently integrated within medical or public health studies there is an urgent need to promote interdisciplinary methods and investigations in this critical field.
Health risks posed by anthropogenic climate change are large, unevenly distributed, and unpredictable. To ameliorate negative impacts, pro-environmental behaviours should be fostered. Potentially this could be achieved automatically through exposure to favourable natural environments, with an opportunity for cost-efficient nature-based solutions that provide benefits for both the environment and public health.